Ask a (Terrifyingly) Clean Person: Oozing Gourds, Glue Mishaps and Food Coloring Woes


At Halloween, I bought a bunch of decorative gourds and tiny little pumpkins. These things are practically indestructible so I have had them strewn about my kitchen and dining room ever since. One of them started looking a tiny bit suspicious, so I checked them all.

One on my wooden dining room table that looked perfect from the top was totally stuck on with gross pumpkin mold and goo and stuff. So far I’ve thrown away the rest of the pumpkins and gently scraped off of the worst of the gunk, but there’s still some gross stuff on there and a dark stain underneath. It is solid wood so I can sand it off if I have to but I’d rather not resort to that. Help?

Help is on the way! (And hiya, by the way. Long time no clean!)

This is one of those questions that has a bunch of different answers, all of which are fine, if a bit mundane, and then two really out-there answers and so obviously those are the ones I’m gonna start with.

The first out-there solution for you is also the cheapest and most convenient, since you (I hope!) already have it around the house: toothpaste. It should be the white stuff, not the gel stuff, which means that those of you with the gel stuff are excused from the preceding parenthetical as are, maybe, those of you who use baking soda for toothcare purposes. If you do, please don’t tell me about it; I respect your personal choices but get the serious heebie jeebies at the thought of a mouthful of baking soda.

The second out-there fix-it is an old favorite of mine — it’s the formula for removing white water rings from wood tables and such, but will also work on your pumpkin goo sitch. You’re going to make a very weird paste by mixing together softened butter and cigar or cigarette ashes. (I told you it was weird.) Using a soft cloth or rag, apply the paste to the stains in a circular motion and then wipe the mixture off using a clean section of your cloth.

Among the more mundane answers are wood polish (zzzzz), sanding (guuuuuh), and conditioning with carnuba wax (huh?!)

I was helping my boyfriend construct his Halloween costume, which involved spray adhesive-ing faux fur onto pants and a shirt to make the Big Bad Wolf. After said process, I realized that I managed to get some of the spray adhesive on the knee of my favorite corduroys. They’ve been washed and scrubbed with everything I can think of, and sadly, I think they’ve been through the drier as well. Is there anything I can do to get it off? It’s gunky and grey and makes my tan pants look super gross.

Every time I see the words “they’ve been through the dryer” when it comes to a stained item I sort of flinch and try to back out of the room unnoticed.

It never works.

So look, I’m gonna level with you: The fact that they’ve been treated, and then through the dryer, doesn’t bode well. But there is one thing that might still save them, and it’s not terribly expensive and also has 1,999 other uses so even if it doesn’t work on your pants, there’s a good chance that it can be used on some future mess you have yet to make.

And what might this miracle product be? It is WD-40! And it will take glue off of fabric. (It will also take tree sap off of fabric, which is a thing a certain portion of you may want to take note of since Christmas, what with its blasted trees, is right around the corner.) To use it, spray a small amount on a rag and blot at the stain. Then rinse the fabric under cold running water and use a bit of liquid soap — hand, dish, laundry — all of those forms of liquid soap will work, to remove the WD-40 residue from the fabric, then launder as usual.

Back here at Hallowe’entide, WD-40 will also help you get pumpkin innards off of carving tools and will help to preserve a carved pumpkin, which you’ll be glad of after you’ve spent hours carving an intricate design to submit to the This Old House Pumpkin Carving Contest.

Yeah, you caught me, I just really wanted an excuse to link to the This Old House Pumpkin Carving Contest. Busted.

My mom was BIG into halloween, like WAY BIG, as in I came home from school on October 1st to a madhouse full of giant black crepe paper cobwebs in every corner, and spooky treats for 31 straight days. Lots of them involved insane amounts of foot coloring, which would invariably get spilled. Bowls full of blood punch, green eyeball salad, the works. The black buttercream frosting was the most dangerous, though, because you had to add so much coloring, and it would stain anything. How should we have dealt with with the smudges of cobweb cupcake and vampire cookie??

Rubbing alcohol is how you should have dealt with those smudges of cobweb cupcake (!) and vampire cookie (!!) — which doesn’t help you or your mom now but will hopefully help aspiring Marthas among us.

Rubbing alcohol is always the go-to for food coloring stains, as well as for ink stains. Fun fact: You may see ink-removal instructions that call for the use of hairspray — the reason for that is that many formulas of hairspray use alcohol as one of the primary ingredients, and that’s why it works. Newer formulas, though, tend not to use alcohol because it’s so drying, so check the ingredient list on the can or bottle to see if it can be used as a stain remover.

To use the rubbing alcohol to blast stains, blot some on to the affected area using a rag or cotton ball, then wipe with a damp cloth, repeating as necessary. For really stubborn stains on fabric, use a foaming upholstery cleaner like Resolve, or bring out the big guns and try some K2r.

An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure so I’ll also mention that it’s not a bad idea to cover hard surfaces on which food-colored items will sit with a taped-down garbage bag or plastic wrap. If you don’t like the look of it, you can always throw a plastic tablecloth over it or some of that decorative spiderweb stuff. Ya know, festive-like.